Virginia Tech 41, Duke 17
College football seismographs around the country flickered a bit when four-touchdown underdog Duke grabbed a 7-0 lead against Virginia Tech early Saturday afternoon. Then form quickly took hold and, with senior flanker Richard Johnson throwing a touchdown pass and catching one, the Hokies rolled to a 41-17 victory in their first Atlantic Coast Conference game.
"It was a historic day," said quarterback Bryan Randall, who threw for a touchdown and ran for one. "You tend to overlook it when you're playing, trying to concentrate. But you look back on it, being part of the first ACC game is a pretty big deal."
Coach Frank Beamer said he told the squad before the game that the Hokies would either be in first or last place, and added after the celebration: "We know what we've got to do [against North Carolina State here next week] to belong around the top."
There were several surprises, among them the weather. Instead of fulfilling dire predictions stemming from Hurricane Ivan, the afternoon was balmy and sunny -- and Hokies fans also were thrilled by the defense putting a quarterback out of the game early for the second straight week and sterling performances from punter Vinnie Burns and kickoff specialist Jared Develli.
The obvious stars were Randall and Johnson, who had been demoted to third string after the season opener against Southern Cal. Always among the most versatile Hokies but often hampered by injuries, Johnson threw a 34-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and caught an 11-yard pass from Randall in the end zone in the third.
Johnson also returned a punt. No Tech player had caught and thrown a touchdown pass in the same game since fullback Tony Paige against Wake Forest in 1981, when Tech was an independent.
Five minutes before halftime and on a play Tech calls "touchdown," Johnson gave the Hokies (2-1) a working margin of 10 points. He took a left-to-right pitch from Randall at the Duke 34 and, with the form that allowed him to throw 18 touchdown passes as a Baltimore-area high school senior, stopped and whipped a spiral that redshirt freshman split end Josh Hyman caught over two defenders in the back of the end zone.
Hyman said Johnson waited so long he thought it would be a run.
"Good thing I stayed on my line," Hyman said.
Johnson said he had thrown and caught a touchdown pass in a game "all the time" in high school. He's practiced the play dozens of times at Tech -- and tried it a couple of times in bowl games. Never did it work until today.
"I knew it was going to happen today, but I don't know why," he said. "The weather was right. Things just panned out for me."
The Hokies began as though they would continue the dominance that produced a 63-0 victory over Western Michigan last week, ripping off inside runs from tailbacks Cedric Humes and Justin Hamilton on the first possession. Near midfield, however, Randall threw a short pass right to defensive end Justin Kitchen, who returned it nine yards to the Tech 39.
Duke completed a nine-yard pass for a first down on a fake punt -- and wide receiver Deon Adams ran a reverse 28 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown. The Blue Devils did not score another touchdown until a 35-yard pass with 44 seconds left.
Randall had 231 yards in total offense and needs just 128 to break the school record of 6,105 yards set by Maurice DeShazo in the early '90s. His next start will be his 29th straight, breaking the modern-era (since 1950) record for consecutive starts Steve Casey set from 1979 to '81.
Randall's best play today was a 30-yard touchdown run 65 seconds before halftime that capped a 24-point Tech second quarter. He faked a shovel pass to Hamilton and zig-zagged right and left, breaking a couple of tackles near the line of scrimmage and running out of an ankle effort about the 10 before diving into the end zone.
On Johnson's touchdown pass, Randall ran into the left flank and was very open. It's not in the playbook for Johnson to throw a pass to him on that play. Maybe next week, Randall said.